Friends

Im often faced with trying to put a finger on just why I love it on St Helena so much. Is it the weather in this sub-tropical climate? Or perhaps the stunning beauty of its diverse landscapes, is it diving, swimming with whale sharks or Devil Rays, or is it just the friendly approach of the locals who welcome me by name as I walk into our local shops? Or is it the unique combination of all of the above.

 After well over 100 dives on St Helena I finally had chance to spend some time with the amazing Mobula Rays (locally known as Devil Rays) and had my camera with me!

Certainly the weeks that have gone by have proven to be quite extraordinary in terms of diving and snorkeling as I have enjoyed rubbing noses with giants of the sea. In that time I have also passed my PADI Dive Master a huge achievement and one which has direct relevance and importance for the rest of my life.

These things of course add into a whole package, that makes St Helena, for me, just a wonderful place to be, but what has elevated it to be one of the best times in my life, right up there with my fabulous University years? It’s been a hard one to work out until a conversation in our Friday night watering hole, the Mule yard enlightened me, what makes St Helena amazing, friends, fun, funny, fantastic, fabulous friends. Everything we do, is done with friends.

 A walk to the shop see’s friends serving us our food. Patrick, the taxi driver who takes me to Thursday night cards, or snooker, is a friend. Johnny Hearne who operates the Enchanted Isle and take us to Lemon Valley, or snorkeling trips is a friend as is Anthony, who operates Sub-Tropic adventures and has tutored me from Open water to Dive master. The list goes on and it is totally unique that your days, times and experiences from swimming with whale sharks to buying bread is shared with friends.

Friend relationships on St Helena are complicated. Ex pats band together, as a natural shared experience/something in common thing, but also as a result of the transitional nature of contracted people on the Island. When we first arrived here a Saint expressed to me her feelings on ex-pats and their relationship with Saints. “I have no problem with people coming here”, she said, “I will be friendly and supportive and help where I can, but don’t expect us to be great friends, I have been hurt too many times when good friends leave the Island that I simply can’t make that emotional investment and commitment any more”. At the time I was slightly offended by this, but having now experienced the other side of this it becomes clear. Like a holiday romance, and in the absence of family, friendship bonds become very strong, they are re-enforced by sharing experiences and you become part of a family of people whom are relied upon for everything from childcare to barbecues, a shoulder to cry on and the greatest of laughs. And then, before you now it, they, or you, are gone. Friends are simultaneously the greatest and hardest thing about life on St Helena. I understand the Saint now, I understand that, when she has other friends and family, who will stay by her side throughout, she does not need, nor want to have friends leave so regularly.

Like those I made in University, the friendships I have made on St Helena will last forever, and we will no doubt see each other regularly, but back in the real world they won’t be by my side as I go shopping, there won’t be two parties every weekend to go to, and when I go for a drink on a Friday night I’ll be lucky to know five people, certainly not fifty.

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Its taken two years and eight months but we have finally seen some water falling from the heart shaped water fall. From drought and desperately low water levels it has not stopped raining for weeks now!

Today I waved goodbye to two close friends, Dave and Wendy Tinkler as they head back to the UK on leave. Of course I have witnessed good friends go many times before, but this one was hard. I couldn’t hang around the coffee shop to watch and wave, I had to say my goodbye’s and leave as quickly as I good for fear of not holding it together. Why the drama, they are returning in two months? But by that point I will be gone,, my daily thoughts are filled with sadness right now as I contemplate my imminent departure from this place I love. All good things must come to an end they say, and my time has nearly drawn to a close. I have secured a wonderful new job back in the UK, and on the 27th of April I will board the RMS for one last, and very final time. I will do so on my own leaving Bev and the kids here to follow me a month later.  I start work as Senior Biologist at the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth on the 15th May.

Of course people will tell me that I should think about the future, that I have a wonderful job to look forward to and I have genuinely missed working in an aquarium. We are moving to a lovely part of the UK and as a family will have wonderful days and times. But those days won’t be shared with, all of the time, friends. I can’t bring with me my nobbers, the affectionate term we have coined for our little band of weird and wonderful friends.

16425875_369098053449510_8511501877451201894_n “Nobbers” Camping weekend at Blue Hill, I havent laughed so much in a long time.

Oliver too is worried about leaving St Helena, fearful of making new friends back in the UK and of leaving friends behind here. His behavior has been affected and he flies from tears to tantrums, in protest at this change over which he has no control or say. He was just five when we moved here and I think had little concept of the change he was about to undertake, moving home he is much more aware and much more worried about the enormity of the upheaval in his life. Charlie does not seem phased, but I think he has no concept of the changes ahead.  At five years old, St Helena is Charlie’s overriding memory, he first went to school here and within his short memory has known little else, I wonder how he will react the first day we take him to his new school.

I should be able to tell you that we can always come back, and of course we can, but the place and its people will be different. That is the fundamental of the Island, constant change. If we were to stay longer then our friends would leave us behind, so staying is not an answer, and longevity would only make it harder.

In July 2001 I was sat in my lounge, in 23 College Road, Bangor. I sat alone as the last day of University had arrived. My flat mates had left the building and I waited for Dad to come and pick me up and take me home from Bangor one last time. As I sat on my own then I sat with sadness and fear. I couldn’t contemplate a life without having my friends with me all the time, sharing experiences with them all day, every day from shopping to parties, from walking to days out, how they could not just be there. Leaving St Helena holds those same feelings, the same fears about how life will be in the next step.

Of course I have wonderful friends in the UK, and family who love us and miss us dearly, as we do them. We have lots to look forward to and much to be grateful for. I should be telling you how grateful I am for the experience and be mature and sensible about treasuring the memories and looking forward to the next adventure, and I’m sure with time I will see that just as I did when I left university.

When leaving the UK over two and a half years ago we contemplated what it would be like leaving our family and friends in the UK but we always knew we would be back, we knew if we were unhappy we could go home. We foolishly didn’t even consider the fact that we would set up a life here and that one day we would have to leave it behind for good. There is no coming back in twelve months if we don’t like it in the UK. When we will leave friends on St Helena we know full well that some, we may never see again.  With each passing day “my last” moments increase. My last trip to Lemon Valley, my last dive, my last walk, my last party and as I sit and picture myself on the RMS, looking back to the Island as she disappears out of view for the last time I simply want to cry.

    My last trip to Lemon Valley?

The Atlantic Ocean

The sea has always been special to me. I was brought up on the North Wales coast, in the town of Sunny Rhyl. The sound of sea gulls was always in the air and the beach was never far away. Despite its name Rhyl is not sunny, and yet walks and fun on the beach don’t require sunshine. The vast expanse of the Irish Sea, often grey and uninviting held huge wonder for me. Even when I was young I would start out at the sea wondering what lay beneath the waves, and where I might get to if I swam in a strait line on and on. My passion really grew one week when I was fourteen years old, and I had a work experience placement in my local Sealife centre. I was hooked and I have lived and worked around the sea and marine life for most of my life.

Moving to Saint Helena has been an even more wondrous experience. Living on an Island 10 miles wide, and situated as it is in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean the Sea pervades every part of life. You can see it from almost everywhere, smell it hear it. Everything on the Island has crossed the Atlantic to get here from food to furniture.

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Boat trips allow great opportunity to see and photograph the Island from a different perspective.

_mg_3426-pano-edit_mg_3398-panoRight from when we first arrived on the Island we have been intimately connected to it. Bev teaches Marine Biology, our leisure time is spent in it or on it, and now my work is to study it. Our boys learnt to swim in the sea, they have snorkeled ship wrecks and swam with whale sharks and had experiences that will last a lifetime.

Not long after arriving on St Helena Bev and I learnt to dive, passing our PADI open water qualification. This opened up a whole new world to me. I’ve wanted to dive all my life, but things have considered to prevent me from doing so until we arrived here. Now, I am a Dive Master having passed my open water, advanced, rescue diver and dive master qualifications over the past two years. Being in the water feels right, I feel at home there. I love the freedom of movement the sea provides, no longer confined to a 2D surface I can move up down and in all directions, its exhilarating, and when you add in the beauty and wonder of the thousands of animals that make St Helena their home its pretty special. Where else do you see wildlife in such abundance.

Not that you need to be able to dive to enjoy the amazing marine life here. One week I left my car at the garage to change the tyres. Instead of waiting at the coffee shop, or pub I went snorkeling off the Jamestown wharf, it was an amazing way to pass the time!

Not all the life that relies on the Ocean lives in it. St Helena has a wealth of bird life that nest on the cliffs and fly out to feeding grounds each day.

Some of our earliest experiences of the Marine Life here were the Humpback Whales that arrive here to calf in the Winter and Spring. These incredible animals can be seen mother and calf together in our waters. If you are lucky you’ll see them breaching as they hurtle their huge bodies out of the water and splash down again, seemingly just for the hell of it.

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One of my first Humpback images. A composite of a whale diving as its huge tail fin disappear below the waves.

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Breaching Humpback whale as we waiting on the RMS St Helena

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Of course where there are Whales there are Dolphins. St Helena is blessed with three species, Bottlenosed, Rough Toothed and the magical Pan Tropical. The Pan Tropical dolphin in particular is an acrobat, leaping out of the water in shear exhilaration as it twists and turns in the air. They are found in huge pods over 300 strong.

In recent weeks I have spent so much time at Sea as I have a new job assisting with various Marine Conservation Projects. I have traveled around the Island mapping fishing grounds, and we were lucky enough to be joined by a curious pod of dolphins. Their speed was incredible as they jumped and played on the wake of the boat even small Dolphin calves kept up with us without any bother at all..

For two and a half years I have been splashing, swimming diving and traveling on the seas of St Helena, but nothing could prepare me or beat the two weeks I have just had. Two of my best ever dives started with a night dive around James Bay was superb, and the first chance for me to test my strobes for my underwater camera. They worked a treat as I photographed Lobsters and Octopus, Stone fish and Eels.

This was followed on Saturday with a long awaited dive to Barn Ledge. A seamount that rises up from the sea floor to a height of around 12m. The dive circumnavigates the mount, dropping of the edge and down the huge underwater cliffs. I’ve never seen so many fish, parts of the dive require you to literally push through them as endemic Butterfly Fish and Bright Red Soldier fish shoal in their thousands.

But the diving was just the start, it is whale shark season again and they are here in big numbers. I have personally swam and photographed well over 50 sharks now as I have been lucky enough to become involved in a project to photograph these beautiful animals. The spots of a whale shark are like finger prints, unique to each and the work we are doing contribute to a world wide database of individual sharks to track where in the world they are spotted in an attempt to better understand their migration patterns. I am as in awe now as the first one I saw two years ago. The experience of swimming with these 10meter gentle giants will never ever leave me.

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Just when you think it cant get any better it does, and St Helena gave me one of the most magical experiences of my life. As I swam with one giant of the sea, a pod of friendly Rough Toothed Dolphins decided to join us. At first I just heard clicks and squeaks but as they came closer I realised what the noise was. In an instant I knew that this was once in a life time,stuff, in fact, for many this was never in a life time as I was plunged onto the set of a David Attenborough special. They were curious but timid, coming close and taking a look at me, but never venturing closer than 6 or 7ft. One was particularly curious and followed me, keeping its distance all the while, back to the boat. We had to move on to find more Whale Sharks, but to my huge surprise the Dolphins followed us and joined us on the swim with the next Whale Shark. I’m told this is incredibly rare, although seen by divers and snorkelers it is normally in passing as the dolphins quickly swim away, to have them swim to us, watch us and spend time with us was special, really special and a day that will live long in my memory. My incredible two weeks at Sea were topped off today as Bev, the Boys and friends joined me for a swim in the bay. As fish geeks Bev and I have wanted to see a sun fish (mola mola) for many years, and today we did. Another giant of the sea these weird looking fish can reach 2m in diameter, but cruise slowly through the sea. This one was not at all bothered by our presence, even allowing us to swim right up to it to stroke it, seemingly enjoying something of a back scratch. Sadly, with an attitude of not being able to top the experiences just gone I did not have my camera with me, but as I high-fived my wife in celebration I knew once again that nothing, perhaps ever, will top the week I have had, thank you St Helena and thank you Atlantic Ocean.

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Weddings, who’d of though it

We left the UK on a new adventure just over two years and four months ago. Although Bev had work and would be teaching (albeit in very different circumstance), I was stepping into the complete unknown, no job, no plan, no clue. I knew I would have some time on the Island, and I had always wanted to take up photography as a hobby, so, equipped with an amazon kindle book, and a £500 second hand canon with kit lens I started learning what all the buttons did.

Some of my earliest shots before I left the UK

I had no idea that it would take me anywhere. Shortly after we arrived on the Island I secured my first job with the tourism office, taking photos of the local restaurants and B&Bs etc. I had to get a work permit and register my business, Paul Tyson Photography (creative eh!?!) .

Photos of mixed standards of tourism establishments required creative thinking when it came to angles and lighting. Now I know why those glossy hotel brochures always look better than the real thing!

My landscape work was already quite well known and established by then, it seems I arrived at a  good time when excellent professional photographer Darrin Henry was busy travelling the world, and there were no other commercial photographers on the Island. Realising there was a gap in the market I promoted my new business, I remember Bev telling me, that “Any money I made from photography, I could spend on photography, but “(quite understandably) I wasn’t to spend any of the money she was earning!

Early St Helena Landscapes

Fair enough, but this provided me all the motivation I needed, the more money I make, the more toys I can buy. Inspired, and slightly jealous of friend David Higgins and his big lens for photographing St Helena’s wildlife, I bought a 120 – 300mm f2.8 Sigma lens. It was one of those ones that people look at and think “he must be making up for something” or simply, “what a tosser”!

My new f2.8 300mm lens allowed me to take these shots.

But I loved it and I could afford it, largely because of a new contract, and one I was most proud of, a commission from French Consul to St Helena to take exclusive photographs for a new guide book to Napoleonic sites on St Helena.

Photos and book cover from “On the Tracks of Napoleon” my first published images.

Next came night skies, we finally started to see the odd clear night sky and it was breathtaking, I simply had to get the gear to capture it on camera, another lens beckoned.

Some of my first Milky Way shots over our house in Half Tree Hollow.

In the mean time I was getting enquiries for studio type photo shoots, so thought I should pursue this and get some more gear. Backdrops, flash stands, wireless triggers and shoot through umbrellas followed. I think by now Bev may of been starting to regret telling me  I could spend anything I earnt on photography!!

The studio work didn’t automatically follow though, the requests continued, but, having set what I considered to be very reasonable prices given the outlay I had made, bookings did not come my way. My first studio shoot eventually came at the end of November 2015, it went well, very well, largely because of the gorgeous little girl I was photographing, and once the photos hit facebook the bookings came in.

My first studio shoot with the most gorgeous, smiling, happy young baby ever!

I soon began to realise that studio photo shoots, and portraits was a whole new ball game, not only did I have to know how to work a camera, and lighting, I had to know how to work a person! When amateurs come to you expecting to look like a super model you need to learn how to position and pose them, how to make them feel comfortable and relaxed with you, as a male photographer I think this is particularly challenging! Once again I took to you tube, and added to my 120GB of photography tutorials!

I started to feel the need to buy more gear. This time, it was a brand new camera, my first full frame, entry level professional camera. Wow what a difference, it allowed me to push the boundaries of what I could do, particularly in low light photography. Following on from basic studio work I was asked for more complex fashion type shoots, and my first real maternity shoot.

Some of my more accomplished studio work. Many were no where like this, over processed and overdone in many cases, but all part of the learning curve.

Again it was a new commission that helped pay for the new camera. I was commissioned to photograph all of the work that falls under St Helena Government’s Environment and Natural Resources directorate. This was a fantastic job, allowing me to see the workings of everything from the forestry team to the abattoir, from renewable energy to waste management. It was a mammoth job but again thoroughly enjoyable as I got to meet Saints from all walks of life.

From pigs in the butchery to people planting endemic seedlings, ENRD does it all.

In September 2015 the airport project started to hot up, as first flight after first flight landed in succession. First ever plane to land, first jet powered plane, first airliner. By now I had grown in confidence as a photographer and on the Island in general and I was pushy enough to speak to the important people and get myself runway access alongside the Islands media representatives. The results of this have been amazing, and my airport photographs can now been seen around the World as St Helena became the new hot tourism destination. My shots our the Islands wonderful landscapes started to appear in prestigious travel sites such as Conde Nast.  Of course we all know that the airport did not open, but in terms of World media, the wind sheer disaster was now an even bigger story and I had contacts from major newspapers and media outlets around the world. My photos of the airport and various planes landing can now been seen globally on sites ranging from the Times, the Independent and the BBC in the UK to USA today. Shots of the first commercial plane to land were quickly put on my facebook page and received over 100,000 views, astounding!

The first landing and first commercial jet liner to land on St Helena

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One of my images as it appeared in the Time Newspaper.

Not only were my photos appearing in media outlets, I was now to be featured in World famous London store Harrods, as I was commissioned to produce point of sale images for St Helena coffee!_mg_2620-edit

Fancy a coffee? I have to admit this is one of my favorite photos, taken on a log in my lounge! The steam isn’t even real!

Photo shoots became a mainstay but a new and interesting job came up with Enterprise St Helena to produce interpretation panels for tourist spots around the Island. This was a brilliant new challenge, combining photography with graphic design and writing, as well as proving a fascinating journey through St Helena historical archives and old photos. Learning more about the history of the Island and getting paid was great, but more importantly its wonderful to know that when I leave St Helena there will be something I produced, left behind for others to enjoy.

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One of 14 interpretation panels soon to be erected across St Helena.

As an aside I was also able to use my graphic skills when I was commissioned to produce the Governors official Christmas card. This was a test in itself, as the request was for a card featuring Lisa Phillips, her lovely black Labrador, dusty, and all twelve of Dusty’s new puppies!! Over 140 photos were taken to produce this card, mostly consisting of dogs bums and tails. But it was a huge pleasure, and the puppies were just lovely.

Colourful bokeh of Christmas lights with a bauble

Governor Lisa Phillips and her adorable Labrador pups. As a thank you for this job the boys were able to go and meet the puppies and spent over an hour cuddling and playing with them. They are fabulous.

Another “first” hit St Helena in October 2016 as an electrical storm shot lightening bolt after lightening bolt down upon us. thunder and lightening is a rare occurrence on St Helena, with some reports stating its over twenty years since the last one, making this storm the first ever to be photographed and shared around the World from St Helena.

These shots received over 20,000 views on facebook!

And so in December and January 2016/17 I find myself as a wedding photographer, with four bookings in as many weeks. Not my first I have done a few here and there, but as I have improved along with my gear these have been the first that I have charged sensibly for (relative to the amount of work) and that I feel accomplished in my work. I am enormously proud of the photos I have taken during wedding season. It is certainly a challenge, working fast, adjusting to rapidly changing light conditions, the photography is a challenge in itself, but its only now that I realise a wedding photographer is also the wedding director, and is looked upon to direct people from venue to venue, into groups, and to help ensure the day runs smoothly. It is daunting, hard work, but immensely rewarding.

If you’d of told me back in July 2014, as we packed our bags for the unknown that I would be a professional wedding photographer before I left St Helena Id of laughed at you, but as the New Year arrives and I look back on my time here I have come a long way. I am building both experience and a portfolio, and who knows where this may take me.

My readers can help me out here, have you recently got married in the UK, or been a close part of a wedding? How much did you pay the photographer, and please, how do my images compare to this. Id love to hear some open honest critique so I can better gauge exactly where I am.

 

 

 

 

The Goose got fat, and was eaten…

Well its been our third Christmas on St Helena, and once again it was new faces but the same fun. We have gotten used to St Helena traditions, and although the warm weather and sunshine always prevents us from gaining that warm Christmas build up feeling, we never the less enjoy our time here. Christmas in St Helena is less complicated than in the UK, there is no shopping rush for example, in fact, if you haven’t ordered it by mid October, then it aint coming for Christmas. No mad rushing round town on Christmas eve for me. And whilst we always miss our families enormously this time of year, not having the pressure of which family will miss out on our company is a relief.

We do miss home more than any other time of year though but the constant trickle of Christmas themed events help to stave this off. The traditional Pilling Primary School Christmas service is a welcome treat. This year our boys had prominent roles, Oliver, a rowdy local berating the presence of Roman Forces, and Charlie, the Star of the show, well, yes, actually the star of the show.

 

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For me this year was extra special, with having no permanent job on St Helena, I have always struggled with those close relationships with the locals, I know lots, say hello to lots, but rarely am I thought of or included in local dinner invites, parties or other traditions. And as such it was lovely this year to be invited to the New Horizons Christmas dinner. I have been volunteering with New Horizons for as long as I have been on the Island, providing photographs of their regular youth sporting events, and coaching two junior footballs teams and refereeing games on Sundays through a very long season. It was lovely to feel that I have been accepted by this dedicated group of people. As is traditional at Christmas parties on St Helena a Secret Santa was in force, this time a naughty one, and my gifts of fluffy handcuffs compliment nicely the mistletoe adorned boxer shorts I received at my actual works do. Bev also had her own works Secret Santa to provide for and creatively came up with this shortbread portrait of the recipient.dsc01606

Oliver this year was chosen for the schools traditional Christmas carol singing service, held outside of the Canister (Tourist office) in town each year. Oliver it seems has begun to follow in his Dads footsteps in developing a love for performing in public, something about the crowds and applause seems to tick some boxes for the both of us. It was lovely to see and hear him enjoying himself with some of his close school friends.

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Events and parades are the number one thing in what St Helena refers to as festival season. The highlight of these for me and for many is the festival of lights. Primary schools on the Island are very competitive and all strive to provide the biggest and best shows on the Island, but I think with Festival of Lights Pilling Primary school takes the accolade as biggest and best, with hundreds of people, cars and vehicles dressed from metaphorical head to toe in Christmas lights, parade through town with music and fake snow aplenty. Its a sight to behold and the hundreds of spectators were treated once again to a wonderful Christmas sight.

I was thrilled this year to be invited by Governor Lisa Phillips to photograph her and Rusty, her lovely Labrador for the official Christmas Card, and, Rusty’s twelve tiny black puppies, what a joy. I had such fun although over 140 photographs were needed to create this one card, I had a lot of photos of bums and tails and precious few of puppies sat still facing the camera.

Colourful bokeh of Christmas lights with a bauble

The Governor provided a wonderful Christmas address this year, which, I was very pleased to hear thanked the partners of TC offices for their contribution to the Island. We are often berated by locals for “taking Saint jobs” and the like, but the truth us us forgotten partners contribute and awful lot to St Helena in the way of volunteering for projects and charities.

Christmas eve was very different to that in the UK as I took part in the annual Christmas dive with Sub-Tropic adventures, a dive in Christmas hats presenting its own challenges!

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The afternoon was spent with good company playing games in the Sun on Rosemary Plain. A tradition started by our friends the Days and Davids and which we have tried to carry on, hoping that others will take this up when we leave. It certainly makes for a different Christmas when tropical sun shine is the theme. That evening we enjoyed a more traditional time, as we settled down, just the family, to watch The BFG, a wonderful film, highly recommended. After reading “A Night Before Christmas” a tradition in my family since I was a small boy, the boys went to bed and, with the fear of Father Christmas going home if they were still awake, fell asleep very quickly. Bev and I then nervously wrapped and placed the presents in their stockings.

The next morning was Christmas like many others, presents, mess and pancakes for breakfast! The boys opened their presents, Oliver in a considered, taking his time manor, Charlie with a more youthful, rip it open and move to the next one approach. Santa brought them their requests for desks, not perhaps the most normal requests for 8 and 5 year old’s, but they loved them non the less. Grandparents from afar were well remembered with toys and gifts a plenty under the tree, all of which were gratefully received by the boys and ourselves. Thank you.

And so on to the afternoon, and this year, we were not hosting, but instead joining 18 others for a bring and share Christmas in the sun. Our contribution pushed my culinary skills, with Paxo stuffing and pigs in blankets! Although I also made some Whisky glazed roast carrots, Parsnips and spiced red cabbage, whilst Bev provided the traditional Yule Log. All arrived at the party on time and before long a feast fit for a king was unwrapped from its silver lining and we all dug in. Lots of food and drink fueled a party which lasted into the night and caused me to miss my boxing day dive the next morning. But boy was it worth it.

Boxing day was another get together, this time with the Bridgewaters for another full on Christmas dinner, followed by an early night! I was exhausted. And so that was our quiet St Helena Christmas for 2016. I still cant quite believe its our third on the Island, time has flown. When we arrived in September 2014 we would never of guessed what lay ahead. As Summer settles in we look forward to the New Year, and we await to see what the next three Christmas’s will bring

 

Fourth Time, Third Time, Second Time, First Time.

 

I have so much to catch up on, my blog will, as a consequence brush over many things and not in any way get across how full the past few weeks have been.

Our time on St Helena is measured by events, I don’t imagine Saints see things like this, but for us the past few weeks have heralded our third, of lot lots of things. Our third Harvest, third boys day out, festival, third cancer awareness event, third Halloween, third World Wide Photo walk, Third Cruise ship season, the list goes on.

The event and social merry go round is non-stop on St Helena, there are times when I’d like to jump off, and have a breather, but then someone will phone and ask “what are you doing on Saturday” and with a fear of missing out, then we are there.

The month started with my third World Wide Photowalk, a day when photographers all over the world go, and walk and take photos. This year’s location, decided upon by the tourist office was Peak Dale, a delightful walk through flax slopes, grass lands, deciduous forest and pine trees. Becoming more popular year on year, over thirty people turned up, on what started as a cloudy blustery day to play their part, enjoy a nice walk and hopefully capture some photos. It soon became very clear that some people were not really in it for the photography, as one group, of avid photographers, myself included, were quickly left behind, each of us hoping to be the first to spot and bag “the shot”. I decided to try something more abstract this year, and looked for form, texture and shape in objects, rather than the wide sweeping landscape views. It was an interesting challenge and I was pleased with my results.

 

Whilst on the subject of walking Bev and I tackled a new post box walk this month, to Lot! Lot is an oddly named large pillar of volcanic, phonolithic rock. It was formed some 7 1/2 million years ago, when the major eruptions of St Helena had subsided and the Island had formed. Later eruptions forced magma up through gaps and fissures in the existing rock, but never quite broke through the surface. Surrounded by an insulating layer this larva cooled much more slowly than the rock laid down in earlier eruptions, and hence formed more solid, resistant rock. As St Helena’s soft volcanic slopes have washed away over time these phonolithic rocks are left to stand proud over their surroundings._mg_4419-pano

The walk itself was a challenge for sure, much of it down perilous slopes, with electrical wire in place to hold on to!! But it was great fun, and made even more pleasurable by the impromptu nature of thing. It was half term, and Bev and I had booked a day off work to spend with the boys. At short notice they were both invited to a birthday party for the day and as such, Bev and I enjoyed our first day alone together for months. It was bliss.

October also saw several charity events, and it seems I have become the go to photographer for doing things for free. “Paul, you know it’s the carnival, do you think maybe you could do some photos”? And my answer is always, yes I’d love to. And I mean it I do love it, I love being asked to help and contribute in some way, but it does mean I have spent most nights on the computer editing and sorting through reams of photos.

And so it is that the past three weeks have contained our Third SHAPE fund raising event, a Masquerade Ball at Plantation House, closely followed by New Horizons Children version, in Halloween costume. The Ball was spectacular in its entertainment as it was in its costume, as all 140 people attendees slowly slipped, sipped, danced and drank into one of the best parties this Island has seen. Over £2000 was raised for one of St Helena’s most important and valuable charities, and everyone had a thoroughly good night. Although I was happy to play my part, I was more than a little envious of having to work when surrounded by such joviality.

It’s not often on St Helena, that I am surprised anymore, but an hour into the night, I was somewhat taken a back as a masked man approached the door and asked me if I was Paul Tyson, “Ummm yes” I replied, “Did you go to Rhyl High School?” “ummm yes” I replied, “Do you recognise me”, “Ummm take off your mask”! And there he was, Mr Cottle, a former design tech teacher in my old school, he, on the door step of Plantation House, on St Helena, I could not believe it. There may not be an airline service yet, but I’m sure there’s a bloody bus that comes here three times a week!

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Mr Cottle on the right, former teacher at Rhyl High School with family.

The arrival of flight TZ 1XS, an Arvo RJ100 jet plane was, for a time the most talked about thing on the Island. The flight, operated by Tronos Aviation Leasing was on its way, in a very convoluted path to Chile were it was being sold, but thanks to the efforts of Atlantic Star is came to St Helena on route to fly some test flights, gather more wind shear data, and test the suitability of this aircraft for ST Helena. Atlantic Star have been a prominent player in the Airport SAGA, insisting from very early on that they will be able to operate a direct service from the UK to St Helena. To their credit they have no wavered from this standpoint,  and, although this particular aircraft type does not have the capacity to reach the UK, it is seen as an option in the short term for the Island due to its particular profile and ability to land in poor conditions and in short distances. Atlantic Star jumped at the chance to test the theory and worked with Tronos to enable the flight to arrive at its destination via St Helena.

From an untrained eye it was a huge success, lucky enough I was to be on my fourth trip to photograph aircraft, I watched and immaculate landing, right on the money, without a hint of wobble, and stopping well short of the vertical cliff that greats a plane that overshoots!

Will it be the answer? Well, no, not in the long term, with the modifications needed to carry additional fuel, this aircraft could only fly to St Helena with around 40 passengers, not enough to build a tourist industry on, but what this flight has done is raise moral, provide some positivity surrounding the airport, and may, just may, provide a short term solution to getting things off the ground as it were. Here’s hoping.

The airport on St Helena has received some terrible press in the UK and worldwide, the most expensive cock up in history, the airport with no air planes, £300mil of wasted UK tax money are the normal headlines. My photos of the airport have subsequently popped up all over the world in everything from aircraft magazines to tourism websites. It was no surprise therefore when some large newspapers came knocking. It was something of a surprise however when I received a phone call from the photo editor at the Times Newspaper. Asking for photos of the airport I enquired what was the article about, already of course knowing the answer. Knowing the article was not going to be a positive one I was torn, do I want my photos used to provide negative press to the Island I love? After some thought I figured, my photos are already over lots of press articles slagging off the airport, what difference does one more make, and at least I was going to get paid, and credited. And so it is that two and a half years after picking up a camera I can now claim to be a professional photo journalist. Well ok, that might be pushing it, but not many people can say their photos have been published in the Times newspaper!!TysonPic.jpg

On to more concerning news and for the second time in just 4 years the Island is experiencing a drought, this time, a severe one. We have had no significant rain fall for months, months and months. The normal winter rains came and went with nothing more than some low lying mist and the situation is now quite serious. We will still have drinking water, even if we rely on bottled water, but without drastic measures, or some serious rain the Island is rumoured to run out of any significant and usable water in a matter of days. Whether it will come to that I don’t know, water is currently being tankered from a bore hole, once used by Basil Read during airport construction, to keep reservoirs marginally topped up, but they are all looking very empty, some with just puddles of muddy water in the bottom. Please and warnings have been offered by all and sundry to reduce consumption, and the Tyson household is playing the, if its yellow, let it mellow rule. I’m also doing my bit by drinking beer instead of water!!

And so it was that against a back drop of drought and prayer for water that St Helena experienced what is, so it seems, a once in a life time event, an electrical storm, or thunder and lightning to you and me. As I sat, in my usual evening position at the computer, I heard a rumble, knowing that St Helena never gets thunder storms I shook my head, told myself it couldn’t be and continued with my work. Even the flash of light outside, did not trigger any thought process that it could be lightning. The second rumble however really got my attention as it rattled the roof above our head. Opening the door to the lounge I said to Bev, “did you hear that? I think its thunder and lightning”. Really!!!

It was, and for the next 6 hours you could find me outside, like a small child enjoying the spectacle. For the first hour I told myself it was passing over, it was not worth getting my camera out. As I realised I was wrong I hurriedly rummaged for my tripod and trigger and headed outside. For the next five hours, until 1.30am I watched and listened with giddy excitement, dancing for joy when I knew a fork of lightening had been within the view finder of my camera. I started shooting out at sea, as the storm passed over and beyond us, but as the night went on pockets of the storm opened up all over, until I was provided the ideal shot, with lightening forking behind High Knoll Fort. Photography conditions were tricky, with low lying cloud surrounding me, forcing me to wait for the occasional breaks. But it was well worth it. I was aware that this was potentially the first storm on the Island for many years (I’ve heard anything from 40 to 10) and that maybe, just maybe I was getting THE photographs to record it. As I uploaded the images to Facebook that night I could not believe the response. Three days later and over 16000 have viewed, clicked, liked, loved and shared these photos. What an amazing experience, and amazing night, and amazing response, and one which I will never forget.

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High Knoll Fort St Helena, Silhouetted against the fork of lightning.

Unfortunately the storm did not bring with it the rains, and after threatening to pour down the storm provided virtually no rain at all.

I guess I shall have to carry on drinking beer!!!

Two Years and a Carnival!

Two years ago it was Carnival, 2014, a bi-annual event held to raise money and awareness of Cancer on the Island. We hadn’t been on St Helena all that long, and, as this extract from my blog at time will show you, it wasn’t, for us, all it was cracked up to be….

“Apparently carnival would be an afternoon of colour, music and celebration as hundreds of clowns, fairies, queens, kings and other exuberant costumes or scantily clad ladies parade down main street of James Town. Gathered crowds cheer and take photos before all of St Helena enjoy an evening of food, music and celebration, all in the aid of cancer awareness. That at least, is how it was supposed to be. Our morning started in much the same way as many other’s, preparing our costumes. Bev and I were sorted, with grass skirts, Hawaiian Leis and for me, a fetching bow tie to accompany my Hawaiian shirt. The boys wanted to be pirates and as such Bev was busy sewing material into pirate waistcoats. This is where it went downhill, a tantrum initiated over the availability of just one pirate hat quickly descended into a full on end of the world level of disparity. When eventually we left the house, having once again decided that our own day shouldn’t be ruined in punishment of Charlie’s behaviour, we missed the procession and arrived at town feeling stupid in our costumes (at least I did), with two miserable children, and hungry. Although cup-cakes helped to break the mood for a short time we had arrived so late that waiting times for real food were by now so long we decided to cut our losses and returned home after having a thoroughly miserable afternoon!”

 Two years on, and it was Carnival time again, and it felt like a real marker of just how far we have come. Looking back we already felt settled in 2014, we had been on Island all of two months and felt we knew the score, but Carnival 2016 was a whole different ball game. Although Charlie threatened to set the day off in the same manner as two years ago, he failed, we arrived on time, and in good spirits to be met by hundreds of fairies as this year’s theme, Take Flight, was clearly on show.

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Two years ago we didn’t really know anyone, and those we did were generally ex pats, this year was very different, we knew almost everybody as we paraded down through Historic Jamestown, dancing to music and soaking up the wonderful atmosphere. The sun shone brightly and as we reached the Waterfront cold beer was on hand to help quench the thirst.

We have now seen lots of people parading down through town for one event or another, it’s a regular and enjoyed part of St Helena culture, and somehow this was different. Perhaps it is because Carnival is only two years, maybe it is the costumes and colour, but I think it’s the cause. Cancer affects everybody on St Helena. In such a small, close-nit community, there is no one that hasn’t in some way been affected by cancer, and the passion of the organisers, carnival goes and spectators reflected that.

Carnival 2016 was fantastic, the costumes and exuberance of it all was brilliant, was it Rio, or New Orleans, no, but in its own, very special St Helena way, it was every bit as much fun.

Back on St Helena

We’ve been back on St Helena now for three weeks, and it feels as though we never left. Despite a huge change in our circumstance we settle right back into things and pick up where we left off. I’ve also had two weeks to settle into my new job, as Team Leader with the Landscape and Ecology Mitigation Program. The LEMP, as it is known is a large project to undo some of the environmental damage of the airport project, rabbit proof fencing, irrigating and then planting large areas of dry desert like environment. Im becoming familiar with my own role in the team and it is essentially one of people management, setting work schedules, carrying out appraisals and the like, but is also, in a large part, one of logistics, ensuring materials are readily available, managing external contracts, and making sure the work flows sensibly and sequentially between the different field teams and local stakeholders.

After two years of photography, spending large amounts of time on my own, it is a real pleasure to be working with a team of people again, and, working with Saints, something that has been missing from my first two years on the Island. It is not without challenges though, one of which is the personal motivation required to do a job that I don’t have to do. It’s the first time in my life that Im doing a job purely for the sake of working and occupying time, challenging myself, and not because we need the money. Its very privileged to be in this position but when waking up early and sorting the boys for school and myself for work I find it necessary to remind myself that this was my choice.

The other pleasure of the job is working, when Im not in the office, in some of St Helena’s beautiful landscapes. Much of the work is in an area known as Prosperous Bay, a wide expanse of desert, a stark and striking landscape of orange red and purple sands punctuated by cacti. As I travelled through I realised I have not really taken in this area in before and certainly haven’t been out with my camera. Photography of my beautiful surroundings, has for some time now, taken a back burner. The more studio work I have been doing the less inclined I have been to enjoy photography as a hobby. I’m sure that my new job will help rekindle this, as I do less in the way of family portraits I have already developed a burning desire to get back out with my camera and photograph this wonderful Island we live in, and I realise just how much of it I still haven’t explored as normal life has taken over.

Our first three weeks back have been a little up and down. I received the news that my Mum has fallen and badly damaged her knee, leaving her immobile, in a huge cast and with the prospect of a knee replacement. It is particularly difficult being away from family when you feel that people need you and your support and I feel helpless to be able to do anything. Injury has befallen me once more and put a premature end to my football season once again. I’ve torn my groin several times, my ankles and this time, my Hamstring. It seems I am unable to play more than three games in a row before picking up a new injury, and its left me feeling old and more than a little fed up. Today I sit on my own having missed out on spear fishing this morning and a walk with friends this afternoon. 1st world problems I know, but when our time on St Helena is limited I hate missing out on things.

Still, being sat on my own gives time to reflect on things. History tells me that this is not good for me, and is one of the reasons I have sought out a full time job. But reflect I have, where are we, how far have we come, what are the important things and who am I. One of the goals of coming here was to improve my relationship with the children, and despite times when I felt it would never get better I find myself two years in with undoubtedly a better relationship with them. I shout less, and loose my temper less, and I genuinely enjoy being with them more. I have grown very proud of the people they are and have learnt to see the good things they bring to my life and not just focus on the restrictions they naturally impose. Oliver took part in the Island first Airport dash. As planes continue to be noticeable in their absence, other community uses are being found for the runway as 140 people took part in a 3km run up the runway and back. Bev, despite telling me she would not do well, placed second in the women’s category, and Oliver second in the primary school ages. Oliver’s achievement is particularly impressive given that many of his competitors were three years older. In fact, in a field of 140 Oliver finished around 15th overall and made his Mum and Dad very proud indeed.

So if I have made strides in becoming a better Dad, how do I feel about myself, have I changed, bettered myself. Right from the start I have longed to have a more important place on the Island, ridding myself of the self-doubt that I have often felt. Are things better now I have found work, I don’t know, not yet. When I look at myself I still see doubt and fear and I am no closer to knowing who I am and being comfortable in my own skin. Some former colleagues and friends back in the UK are currently out in Vancouver, for an international aquarium conference. Its crazy sitting here on St Helena, but I am filled with jealousy and feel a longing to belong to the industry I left behind. A friend once said, not long after we arrived on St Helena that she feels in limbo, not quite belonging to St Helena, but sufficiently changed so that she will never quite feel like she belongs in the UK. Two years on I understand where she is coming from. I have always wished and looked for a sense of belonging, to something important, to be a part of something greater and of significance. Maybe having a job on St Helena will help that, maybe not. I remain hugely ambitious but I have come to wonder if that is a good thing, are you ever satisfied with yourself, when you are always ambitious for more, ambitious to achieve something greater.

Most of all I worry about whether people like me, sad I know, you may argue why should I care, take me as I am if you don’t like me, it’s not my problem. Maybe I will always carry this, a need to be better, be more, be recognised and to feel important and liked. Maybe it’s just the Island that brings these feelings out in me, it’s certainly played more a part of my life here than at any other time. Work undoubtedly gives me less time to think, but when I do, I still tie myself in knots and struggle to understand how I feel and why I do. Maybe I need to stop figuring things out, and just run with it.

If I haven’t changed, things on St Helena have changed whilst we’ve been gone, good friends have left and social circles have shifted somewhat. As I sat down last night I updated our phone list, gone are the Grahams, the Hannahs, the Hathways, the Parkinsons, the Durkins and the Lambdon, great friends now gone from St Helena. Our first year on the Island seems a long time ago, and only a handful of friends remain who even know the important people in our lives from 2014. The Days, the David’s and others were very much our early time on the Island, and I feel fiercely protective of those memories we shared. Increasingly we find ourselves talking about people, events and times that others have no knowledge of, as we feel more and more like the old timers on the Island. Of course this is ridiculous, we have only been here two years, but on an Island so transitional this is longer than many. But this year it is all change again, we have made new friends on the ship and others who arrived during the eight weeks we were away. Despite the change in personal, the story remains unchanged, weekends are spent at barbecues and parties, walking with friends, Sunday football and donkeys.

Being away from the Island and then returning, highlights just how things have improved here since we first arrived. My lunch today was a lovely BLT, with locally produced bread, lettuce, tomatoes and smoked bacon, the only import being Hellman’s mayonnaise. Dinner tonight was delicious (even if I say so myself) Pork tenderloin with a tarragon and white wine sauce, carrots and broccoli (no Mum I didn’t have broccoli) again all locally produced or grown, the wine included. It’s a far cry from the endless cabbage and cauliflower that greeted us two years ago. Our fridge is stocked with fruit from our regular order, and a large piece if fillet steak awaits for tomorrow night. Now working full time, shopping has become a quick and daily occurrence, popping out at lunch and nipping round a few shops. As I pass by the Wellington store I am shouted at by a voice through the window, “Paul, when are you collecting your fruit bag” being the normal cry. Like most things, shopping is very social with an endless meet and greet as you move from shop to shop. Its this friendliness and community that really makes St Helena and makes our time here special. As I reflect on our first few weeks back on the Island, at the start of probably our last year on the Island it is clear that this is what we will miss most. Whale sharks, diving and stunning scenery are a joy, but it is the everyday people and the everyday life we have here that, when the time comes, we will miss most. I hope my hamstring heals quickly so I can spend less time thinking and reflecting, and more time enjoying and doing.

 

Footnote – We’ve actually been back more like six weeks at the time of posting this so before this is uploaded an update is due. Ive settled back into things, settled into work and have some exciting prospects on the horizon. Look out for another update with photos, days out and dolphins coming very soon.

The Most Beautiful City in the World?

I was filled with excitement to be heading back to Cape Town, man I love Cape Town. This time, fearing it may be our last time we had booked two extra nights giving us three in total. Which, as ever, just was not enough.

Our mini break did not start well and we watched the luggage conveyor belt at the airport spin round and round with no sign of the boys big bright red suitcase. Eventually we were told “there are no more bags to come off”, and the reality that one of our suitcases was missing hit home. We logged a missing bag report and would have to wait and see where it was but for the time being, the boys had nothing but the clothes they were standing in!

Determined not to let this ruin our time here, we left and met the ever lovely Julian, waiting outside to transfer us to our hotel. Having previously stayed in the tourist trap water front, and in the city centre, this time we opted for a beach side suburb of Cape Town called Camps Bay._MG_3356 Our hotel, Place on the Bay was lovely, and what it lacked in finishing touches in made up for in location, sat as it was just across the road from white sand beach, rolling Atlantic waves and the palm tree lined promenade of one of Cape Towns most beautiful districts.

Our time in Cape Town was amazing, we played on the beaches, paddled in the sea, shopped in local markets and went exploring in the rock pools. The highlight however was our day trip safari to Inverdoon Game Reserve. Reliably informed that the reserve was a two and a half hour drive away we set out to arrive at 10am, by leaving at 8 am, not as you will notice, on time! Traffic leaving cape Town was slow, and the whole of South Africa was, it seemed, covered in a thick blanket of fog. Despite having directions to the reserve, we did the usual thing and plugged our destination into the Sat Nav, and blindly followed it despite it taking a different route than that which was recommended. It wasn’t long before, in terms of time, we realised this was a mistake and we climbed higher and higher through steep mountains up into Bains Klooff Pass. Late we may have been, but speed was not an option as we travelled through stunning scenery of forest and cliffs with shear 400ft drops to the side of us.

Its hard to express just how incredible the landscape was, and unfortunately, already now very late for our safari I had no time to stop and photograph the area, but I was breath taken at its beauty. As a troop of baboon crossed the road ahead of us we reached the summit of the pass, and looked down the valley ahead of us, the twisted layers of rock, lush green trees and rivers cutting its way down hill as waterfalls either side of the valley crashed down to meet it.

Leaving the pass behind us we reached Cares, a medium sized town and the first in South Africa we had seen that felt like Africa, the shop signs were largely in Afrikaans and white man was all but absent. As we passed through, there seemed to be a protest of some sort going on, a large gathering of people and two or three police cars made us a little wary as we slowly drove through the crowds. We needn’t of worried it was all very peaceful, and we do not really know what the commotion was all about, but as we left town and came across another of South Africa’s shanty towns it was a stark reminder that behind the sheer beauty of the country and friendliness of it people there is still a troubled country. Thirty years after apartheid has ended the country is still divided by class and race and the ruling, majority black ANC party have some way to go before this country is at peace with itself and there is anything approaching equality in this beautiful land.

Leaving Cares was my opportunity to make up some time, as the most wonderful, strait road opened up for miles ahead on the flat, wide, river valley floor. High mountains boarded us and my foot hit the floor with the speed gauge hitting 150kph it was exhilarating to scream through the valley on the empty road in my little Hyundai! If we arrived at Safari past 10.30am there was a chance they would leave without us, it was now looking to be impossible to make up the time and as the tarmac road ended, and a gravel track lay out ahead of us our only hope was that the group was small and kind and that they would be gracious enough to have held off and waited for us.

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Long Strait Roads, paved in gravel made for exciting driving!

With clouds of dust behind me, and stones flying about I took the little car to its limits across the gravel, only slowing down when we came across the most wonderful road sign, “Caution, SLOW, Tortoise in road!!! Turning into the safari reserve we saw our first wild African animals, Springbok, the national animal of South Africa, grazing peacefully in fields adjacent to the gravel road. We were welcomed at the reserve and quickly hopped onto a safari 4×4 which shot across the African bush, shaking and bouncing us to catch up with the main tour group had already departed.

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Springbok are very common.

A wonderful three hours was then spent out on the reserve catching a privileged look of Elephants, Giraffes, Lions, Buffalo, Zebra and the delightful tortoise crossing the road, before the highlight in the Cheetah reserve.  A game reserve is not 100% wild, it is a managed environment, many of the animals have been rescued from hardship or exploitation, and the animals are fed during times of drought, but they are free to roam, to hunt and live an all but wild existence on the 15000 hectare estate. The flat valley floor and grassy plains stretched for mile upon mile bordered by a circle of mountains on the far horizon, it was a true privilege to be there and a day we will all remember, a big thanks to Gran Mitch for the gift that allowed us to do it.

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Relaxing by the pool. If the boys look cold, its because they were, the water was icy and Bev and I were going no where near it!

All too soon our time was done and we headed back to Cape Town. Surrounded by the 2000+m mountains of the Matroosberg Range, and following the wide flat Breede River valley through vineyards and mountains past lakes and streams the drive back was as stunning as the drive there, only this time I stopped to take some photos. This area is simply stunning and left me dreaming of returning one day for a more extensive exploration.  Returning to Cape Town we felt strangely at home in this foreign land, like we were somehow returning home from a day out, rather than returning to a hotel following a day on safari.

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Matroosberg mountains

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Vineyards of the Breede River Valley

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View from the car as we wound along the Breede Valley. (No I didnt take the photo whilst driving!)

 

Our last days in Cape Town went too quickly, more beach, more rockpools, more sun and more good food. Before long we were back in the now very familiar Seamans Mission, passing our luggage over to the handling crew, and waiting to once more board the RMS St Helena. We had been a little apprehensive about our new final year in St Helena. Many good friends had left the Island whilst we had been away, and I was due to start a new job. Just before leaving St Helena some 8 weeks ago I had interviewed for and been offered a post with the Airport Landscape and Ecology Mitigation Program as a Team Leader, supervising staff in the field, managing various outsourced contracts and assisting with the project management of the Islands largest ever conservation project. What would this last year hold for us, many changes in store, two parents working full time, Charlie starting in year 1 (proper school) and friends leaving the Island. Boarding the RMS is always special, but this time held even greater significance for us, as, just like two years ago, we stepped into something of the unknown.

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One of my favourite photos of all time. Taken with a self timer on a stunning beach in Clifton. I sometimes have to pinch myself at how lucky we are, and how lucky I am. Moments of peace and beauty allow one to remember the good things in life, I will never forget this moment.

As always the RMS has a calming influence and before long we had met new friends heading to St Helena for the first time, and old friends heading back following periods of leave or medical. The nervous and excited questions of our new friends helped to re-assure us, we were the old hands, and although changes were afoot, no doubt St Helena will be the same place, and as Cape Town disappeared into the sea mist a feeling of contentment came over me. St Helena we are coming home.

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Six weeks, and hundreds of Miles

We touched down in Brize Norton, near Oxford, and, following some confusion at the public entrance gate, we met up with Bev’s Mum and Dad who were there to welcome us and take us to Bradley Stoke, Bevs family home just outside of Bristol. Whilst it was lovely to see family, the suburbia of Bristol filled me with horror. Traffic is almost without exception terrible. The M5 is a car park and it seems that those roadworks that were present 12 months ago are still not finished, and yet new ones have sprung up everywhere, clearly UK highways have money to burn as they seem to have erected cones and 50 mph speed limits on every section of every motor way we travelled on. We spent two days shopping and spending money like it was going out of fashion. Now I quite enjoy spending money, but I don’t enjoy shopping, and find myself scowling at hundreds of people, strangers, whom I have a preconditioned dislike for in the jungle of Cribs Causeway retail park.

My mind turns to our final return to the UK and I don’t like it, I don’t like the row upon row of red brick housing, the people in the street whom ignore you as you pass them, or the weather, the world renowned British weather. As I hear tales of the continued Indian summer back on the Island, I check the weather forecast and hear the bemoaning’s on social media of people questioning where the British summer has gone.

After a few days with Bev’s parent we travel to North Wales to see my folks. This is something I was dreading, not of course seeing my parents, whom I of course miss greatly. But I dread the drive ahead, having not driven more than 20 minutes on the Island I now have to tackle 4 hours of British motorways. Quite how more people don’t die on our roads is beyond me, the tail gating and under cutting is terrible. Maybe I have become soft, maybe it has got worse, but I genuinely felt nervous for much of the journey, as BMW after Audi took a fancy to my rear end and felt the need to drive within a few feet of me. Roadworks, roadworks, and roadworks, full of speed restrictions and cones and yet noticeably devoid of anyone actually working. Perhaps we should just re-name them roads, as there never seems to be any works taking place.

Ok, so as you can probably tell my first week or so in the UK did not fill me full of joy for our eventual return in twelve months, but it did get better. We spent a lovely week in the Llyn Peninsular, a week in Yorkshire and the East Yorkshire coast, ate in nice restaurants, and had lovely days out. The weather improved, considerably, and the British summer reared its head, basking us in 32 degrees of lovely sunshine. We caught up with some wonderful friends, friends whom reminded us that there are people, aside from family, whom we miss greatly and who will always, no matter where in the world we live, or how long the intervals we see each other, be our best of friends. And of course we felt the love of our families, it is so clear just how much we are missed and how much the boys being away leaves a gap in our parents’ lives. It was wonderful to see how well they played with their cousins, and how quickly and easily the chaos ensued.

A lovely week spent on the Llyn Peninsular in North wales, lots of time on the beach, crazy golf, swimming, football and even sunshine.